There are plenty of things to look forward to in the 2014 BYU men’s rugby season, not the least of which is a shot at a third straight national championship.
The team won three national titles in the last five years, two of which came back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. The Cougars felled 26-time champion California in the 2013 Varsity Cup Championship with a clutch drop-kick by freshman New Zealander Jonny Linehan with no time to spare to take home the trophy.
P.U.S.H. for excellence
“P.U.S.H.” is the team’s slogan for the season, which stands for pride, unity, sacrifice and humility. The slogan is designed to help the team perpetuate and build off the successes of the previous two seasons.
“We talked about pride in the jersey and pride in the opportunity to represent BYU specifically,” said head coach David Smyth. “Unity because if we don’t work together and be united as a team, we won’t get where we need to go.”
Smyth cited sacrifice as one of the important attributes for the athletes, as rugby is a non-scholarship sport and many of the athletes have to work in addition to their studies and rugby obligations. Humility, Smyth said, is also necessary for the team to achieve its goals.
“We feel like if we take care of those areas, it’ll show on the field,” said David “DC” Collins, a senior from Mesa, Ariz. “It will really help us improve as a team.”
The 2014 squad
Having options as a team provides multiple opportunities to be successful within a game and also have wiggle room for necessary adjustments throughout the season. This is one aspect of the Cougars’ 2014 squad that could prove essential.
“The good thing about this year’s team is that we do have quite a bit of depth,” Smyth said. “We’ll be able to rotate players through in the early part of the season to see who is really going to assert themselves.”
The loss of four starters due to graduation will require the younger players to assert themselves and develop their talent to fill key roster gaps. The team’s veterans are confident the younger players will be able to keep up.
“It’s fun when you see the team change from the beginning of the season to the end when you’re holding the trophy up,” said Will Taylor, a senior from Clarksville, Tenn. “There is a difference, and it’s fun to come together and do it as a group of guys.”
Return of the Wasatch Cup
The most exciting matchup of the year for any BYU sport, the showdown with the University of Utah, is especially meaningful for the boys on the pitch (or field) and the coaches.
“Utah’s our rival; that’s the game I look forward to most as a coach,” Smyth said. “They’re 40 miles up the road, and I think there’s a lot of value in playing as the two top teams in the state to see who’s going to be the best for that given year.”
BYU men’s rugby team has been especially dominant against Utah in the past. The 2012 Wasatch Cup win tacked on to the seven-year series sweep of Utah starting in 2006.
Despite notching consistent W’s against the Utes, it is an exciting game every year.
“Like every other year in the past, it won’t be easy,” Smyth said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons these young athletes play: to be challenged on a regular basis. To play against a team like Utah you have to compete at your best level.”
Tradition of excellence and honor
But the game goes far beyond the scrum, scratches and championships for the athletes, including seniors Collins and Kyle Sumsion.
“Sometimes we have a play that goes exactly how we’ve practiced it,” Collins said. “Those are the types of moments we live for, where our hard work and our sacrifice come together and seeing what we’re capable of.”
Kyle said the unity as a team is something that brings the team to a new high.
“I love the sport of rugby, and I like going out there and smashing a few guys,” Kyle said. “But more than anything else it’s the unity and brotherhood we have on the team that I love.”
The season kicks off Feb. 7 against Colorado University for the first round of the Red Rock Invitational in Mesquite, Nev. The first home game will be March 1 against the Glendale Raptors.